The Oakland A’s family lost a championship member, with news on Wednesday that former outfielder Claudell Washington died at the age of 65. He had “dealt with [prostate] cancer and other ailments for the past several years” and passed away Tuesday night, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
Washington made his MLB debut in an A’s uniform in 1974. That year he helped the team win their third straight title, including a 4-for-7 performance at the plate in the World Series. He ended up playing three seasons in green and gold before being traded to Texas, and ultimately played 17 years in the majors for seven different teams, primarily the Braves.
In nearly 2,000 career games, Washington racked up 1,884 hits (.278 average), 164 homers, and 312 stolen bases, all with a slightly above-average batting line. Add it all up and he earned just a shade under 20 WAR for his career (19.6 bWAR, 16.9 fWAR). He never returned to the World Series after his rookie season, but he did earn two All-Star berths, once with the A’s in ‘75 and again with Atlanta in ‘84.
Washington drew rave reviews from the people who knew him. Slusser’s writeup features quotes from former teammates Mike Norris, Sal Bando, and Phil Garner, and Monte Poole of NBCS has this to say: “Claudell Washington had shoulders broad enough for his entire name to fit across. A 32-inch waist. Speed. Power. Classy. Warm. RIP to one of the mellowest ballplayers ever.” Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic wrote a thorough profile on him in 2018, about a life full of highs and lows that he lived with no regrets.
Norris added the following, via John Hickey of Sports Illustrated:
“He was just an amazing guy,” Norris said. “He had an incredible sense of humor that most people never really got to see, because it wouldn’t come out around people he didn’t know well. But if you really got to know him, he was a wonderful friend.”
Melissa Lockard of The Athletic offers this personal anecdote:
One of my favorite memories as a kid was seeing Claudell Washington at my elementary school before one of my softball games when I was in first or second grade. He signed a ball and it is easily the prettiest signature I ever got. Really nice man and a great ballplayer. RIP
Among the many fun facts about Washington’s life and career, he’s got a claim to fame in 1980s pop culture. In the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when the characters go to a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, Ferris catches a foul ball hit by a Braves player — and it’s Washington who hit it.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said Norris, via Slusser. “I couldn’t find a better friend than Claudell. This is one of the toughest days of my life right here.”